Monday, 24 December 2018

How limited are 'limited editions?'

As someone who sells prints to serious and discerning collectors, the vexed question of 'is this a limited edition' crops up now and again. I say now and again, as most people understand that photography is not a medium that should be a natural home for artificially restricting how many prints of a particular photograph might be printed. As we will see, this is all a bit of a red herring in photographic terms anyway.
Iris No.9, 2018 Platinum print

Limiting how many prints can be made from a particular image came originally from fine art printing such as etchings, lithographs and silk screen prints. In these examples the editions were inherently limited anyway, due to how many prints might be pulled from a screen or etching plate before it began to wear and the image deteriorate. It is also a tradition to deface or destroy the screen or plate so no more can be made. To destroy a negative would, for 99% of photographers be an unthinkable act of creative, photographic and social documentary history vandalism. I don't know one photographer who would ever contemplate such a thing. Most photographers embrace the aspect of the medium which makes it possible, in theory anyway, to make multiple prints over many years from a negative making photography a very 'democratic' medium. How often this actually happens in practice however, is very much another matter. 

Iris No.8, 2018 Platinum print
When I print a new photograph for the first time I might make two or three prints at the time and unless they are destined for exhibition somewhere right away, are stored in my archival print boxes for possible future exhibition or sale. In all the years that I have been selling original, archival gelatin / silver and platinum prints, (over fifty), through galleries, directly to collectors and public art collections, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of one particular image that I have made more than four or five prints of for sale. This just happens to be a feature of much photographic print sales, it's extremely rare for any photographer to sell that many copies of a particular image. So-called 'limited editions' don't get much more limited than that!

Artichoke No. 3, 2017 Platinum print

It's true however, that some galleries make a point of or even force the photographers whose work they handle to stipulate that prints are part of an 'edition'. Here we discover that this is a bit of an artificial ruse to inflate the price, (not the value, they are two different things) of the prints. Firstly, serious professional galleries know their client base and the relative demand for individual photographer's work very well indeed. An 'edition' then - and this applies to all galleries selling paper-based artwork, will be set at a number that can reasonably be expected to sell, plus a few more 'just in case'. This can be five, ten, twenty five, 100, whatever. Yes, the 'edition' might truly be 'limited' but in reality the gallery will ensure that it's in line with expected sales, so in effect, not limited at all. In the unlikely event of a so-called 'limited edition' selling out, the gallery will more than likely re-issue the same image in another form or size and call this yet another 'edition'. Not illegal, not really 'sharp practice' and it would only apply to a tiny minority of photographic works but it does underline the nonsense of so-called 'limited editions'. Even then, the total numbers of photographic prints made is tiny as compared with other works on paper.
Globe Artichoke No. 2, 2017 Platinum print

When you see something described as a 'limited edition' you do need to take this with a pinch of salt. However, when you buy an original, hand-made, archival silver / gelatin or platinum print from a reputable gallery or photographer, you can be certain that it will be a very special artefact which may even have been especially printed to order for you and not a mass-produced item. Also, as a hand-made print produced in a darkroom, even if there happens to be more than one or two in circulation, you can pretty much guarantee that there will be subtle differences in each print making them all truly individual.
Pete's original prints can be seen and purchased at Ffotogallery Y Gofeb

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

To Sign, or not to Sign, That is the Question....

On a photography forum recently, someone asked what pen he might use for signing the front border of his prints that are for sale. Now I have an aversion to signing the front of my photographic prints as I consider that it completely spoils the aesthetic of the presentation of a fine print, even though I know it can, if you wish, be covered by the mat when mounted properly. However, I do recognise that for serious work and serious collectors, the authentication and subsequent traceable provenance of the work is important. It may not matter that much if you are just buying a low-cost digital inkjet print for mainly decorative purposes. You know the things I mean; ultra wide-angle, over filtered and over photo-shopped sunsets etc. These also tend to be the worst offenders for the flamboyant signature in the bottom right hand corner of the white border. 
Morvan, France, 2018

When we are dealing with 'artworks' that might, in the future, retain or hopefully gain in value and become 'collectable' within a particular market, it is important that the work and the artist are clearly identifiable and the object has impeachable provenance. Painters sign their work, most usually on completion of the work using the same paint as for the main work so in future years the signature can be identified as not only being by the artist but made at the same time as the painting. If a sculptor is making an edition of bronzes from one of their works they will almost always sign the clay model that is the basis for the subsequent moulds and plaster investments to make the finished bronzes. In that way the signature or makers mark is transferred to each cast. Printmakers who made 'editions' will sign and date each one with the edition number and quantity, 3/25, 15/250 or whatever the edition maybe. Each edition will be logged with the artist or gallery and traceable, plus many printmakers have a unique embossed stamp that can be used on a blank border of a print. 
Dijon, France, 2018

Over the years I have sold many prints and continue to do so to serious collectors of my work. Prints that I made many years ago, due to my long career of producing work have become 'collectable'. Therefore it's very important that these prints are clearly identifiable as being not just my photograph but printed by me. (Important for many collectors). At the same time I loath the scrawl across the front border which is less authentication and more 'celebrity' autograph. Just having a signature on a photographic print provides little other relevant information. Serious collectors require a number of pieces of information and I ensure that these are on each print before it goes out. 

My name and copyright symbol, vital. The title of the work, the date the photograph was taken and the date the print was made. (For some collectors a print made closer to the time that the original photograph was taken becomes more 'collectable'. This applies mainly to 'vintage' work). I also include the negative number as in future years this will be traceable within my archive and support the provenance. All this information is written within my stamp on the reverse of the print. I then also sign in a space within that stamp. So all the information to authenticate that print is provided but in a way that does not interfere with the aesthetic of the image. A fine print should never be mounted in a way that makes it permanently attached to a mount so this information should always be accessible. I also keep a record in my archive of every print sold to further support the provenance and authenticity. The flamboyant scrawl across the front of a print spoils the aesthetic of a fine print and serves no really useful purpose other than inflating the ego of the photographer.